While it’s difficult to make any post-apocalyptic story upbeat, there is a propensity for films with that particular backdrop to be so bleak that they are darn near unapproachable. These are the films that really make you wanna go hug your granny when they finish. Even within those sorts of jet-black stories, though, there is usually at least a few nuggets of redemption, perhaps even a tiny bit of hope. You know, for the kids.
Aftermath, the latest from director Peter Engert and writer Christian McDonald , however is not one of these apocalyptic stories sprinkled with hope and parables. It is an hour and a half of watching people suffer. There is no real hope for redemption, no real solution ever in sight. It is just a group of people stuck in a basement after a nuclear attack, slowly waiting to die. That sense of real hopelessness strikes pretty early within the film, when we discover that the entire group has already been exposed to lethal levels of radiation. From this point forward the film loses all real narrative weight. It’s hard to care about a story when the outcome is announced within the first act with a magically appearing geiger counter.
That magical appearing geiger counter is another symptom of the weakness apparent in this film. Usually, a film has plenty of unlikely coincidences that lead our protagonists to their eventual goal. In Aftermath, we have all of those illogical coincidences but they don’t lead anywhere. They are just black holes of logic that make the audience question the rationality of the narrative, pulling them even further from the story being told. When the line “electronics don’t work” is uttered only to use a geiger counter and a radio moments later, you have some story problems.
The main issue with Aftermath though, is the script’s lack of interest in the characters within it. Not a lack of interest in developing them mind you, just a general lack of interest in their survival and/or growth. Nothing changes from the beginning of the film to the end of the film except some escalating gloom and doom. So, in Aftermath every character’s growth within the story arc is “alive to dead”. That’s it, that’s all we get. No one discovers the error of their ways, there is no moment of epiphany, it is all just suffering and death. Then credits.
Aftermath isn’t a poorly crafted film, every technical aspect of the film is perfectly serviceable. It’s just the pure cynicism of the storytelling that causes it to be such a distancing film. “Night of the Living Dead”, which Aftermath borrows quite a few beats from, allowed for hope. There was the hint of change and escape. On top of that, it had another layer of social commentary that also had a tinge of hope. Aftermath, though, forgot that part of this apocalyptic formula. There is no hope, there is no message, there is just a depressingly dark series of events that leads to an especially dismal ending.